Thirteen-hundred words to encourage those with dyslexia and reading disabilities.
I wasn’t a smart kid. I wasn’t dumb either, but my dyslexia and the system I found myself in certainly made me feel that way. Reading was a challenge for me. Before I share my story, let me tell a little about myself today. As you shall see, this article is far from a bragging session. The reason I feel the need to share is to show you that those who struggle as I did can overcome. When I worked in IT, a coworker spoke about her son and lamented over his lack of academic performance. She was clearly concerned about her child’s future. When I shared my story with her, she said, “You don’t know how much hope you’ve given me.”
That’s what I want this article to do for you.
Dyslexia Disabled Dreams
In 1992 I worked in a warehouse. It was a step above the type of construction work I had been doing, and it was as far as my dreams would take me. I had no dreams of greatness. When I was engaged to my wife, her father expressed concern about my career, even offering to pay for me to go to college. I said, “I will never go to college, and I will never work in an office.” Life threw me a curve on that one, but that’s a different story.
In the last two decades, I became an IT professional, and soon discovered a natural knack for technical skills. I finished technical college with a 3.9 GPA, which as you will see, is no small miracle. My career took off and I’ve gone a long way down a successful road. In 1998, I discovered a new talent I also never dreamed of. Writing. It began with prison ministry. Prisoners weren’t allowed to have many things, but printed paper was one thing they could have. By request, I started writing out the things we were studying. It was a necessity at first, but I soon began to get better and started enjoying writing. Since 1998, I’ve written well over thirty-thousand pages of various articles, studies, and manuscripts.
I’ve written three full length manuscripts, and one is published. My book, I Called Him Dancer, continues to sell well, and as of this writing, it enjoys a five star rating. I’ve gotten many letters from people who tell me how they connected with the characters and were inspired by the story. One of my favorite complements was from someone who said they were impressed with the quality of the writing. As you continue to read, you’ll see why that’s a big deal for me. Here’s a shameless plug. You can read the kindle, nook, or Apple version for only 99 cents!
The successes I’m sharing serve to make an important point. It’s easy for someone to say, “You can succeed,” or, “There is hope for your child,” but hearing from someone who has been there – no, is still there – can be a great encouragement. But to succeed, each individual must first realize that the bars that have them caged in are merely a mirage. For more than half my life, I lived in the box of limitation without realizing I could climb out.
My story of dyslexia and my reading disability
Let me give you a glimpse into my childhood. As a third grader, I remember sitting in Ms. Severt’s class, dreading having to announce my progress in reading. The class had been given an assignment to read. I didn’t read it. The teacher sat at her desk and marked in her grade book as she called each name. We had to answer one question, “How much of the assignment did you read.”
She started with the last names that began with ‘A’. Mine begins with ‘S’. It was like watching a train coming down the track in slow motion. It was barreling towards me, but I had no way to escape it. She started calling out the B’s and C’s. I heard each person declare, “I read all of it.” Not one person said anything less.
She wrote as she rolled through the R’s and began the S’s. Then the teacher called my name. Hoping she wouldn’t notice, I said, “Some of it.” She did notice.
Instead of calling the next name, she stopped and looked up. Every eye in the class looked back. “How much is some of it?” I shrugged. “Did you read half?” I looked down and shook my head. “Did you read any of it?” Without taking my eyes off my desk, I shook my head again. Giggles echoed softly around the room while she complained about my lack of effort. I didn’t pay attention to the rest of her words, I could only hope the train would start rolling again and leave me behind.
Leave me behind it did. I finished high school with a ‘D’ average.
I have dyslexia. By most standards, I would be considered to have a reading disability. A disability I never outgrew. Most people who know me now would never guess it. Anyone who knew me during childhood probably wouldn’t be surprised. It wasn’t laziness. It was a limitation. But I didn’t understand that at the time. These limitations are just as much part of my life today as they were in the third grade. But how I approach it is quite different. You see, what is called a disability is, in most cases, a difference in learning style.
We don’t call someone who can’t play music disabled. But technically, they may have a music disability. Someone who can’t catch a football isn’t called disabled. People who hate math aren’t called disabled. But reading is a different story. Each person is wired differently, and what causes someone to be gifted in one area, may be the cause of their limitations in another area. Forcing students to learn through their limitations only causes them to feel inferior. You wouldn’t consider a duck to be a failure because it can’t run on land, nor would you call a lion a failure because it can’t fly or skim across the water. So why are students forced to learn in ways they are not equipped?
I’ve worked with many people and I’ve seen individuals that were considered to be incompetent suddenly begin to thrive when they took a different position. The truth is, we are all incompetent in areas where we are not equipped. I’m good with computers and technology. If someone has a technology problem that has plagued them for days, they think I’m a genius when I quickly resolve it. But put me in front of a drafting table and assign me the simplest task and I’m lost as a lion trying to skim across a lake. The solution is to find strengths rather than forcing ourselves into a mold that is built around our weaknesses.
Words can be your friends
In my younger days, words were my enemies. Today, they are beloved friends. How can someone who struggles to read be able to thrive when writing? I don’t know. The brain is something I can’t understand. But thankfully there are tools like Text Aloud that help compensate for my lack of reading comprehension. I can read, but the longer I read, the more my mind disengages. Soon I find myself reading words but not thinking about what they mean. It takes great concentration for me to stay focused, and it can be taxing. Without even realizing it, I’m thinking about something unrelated to what I’m reading. I know everyone does this to some extent, but we audio learners are stuck in that limitation.
With audio I can listen while I read, and it keeps me engaged. Plus, Text Aloud has a follow along feature that highlights words as they are read. This tool has had more of an impact on my reading and writing than any other tool or discipline. I call it my proofreading partner.
Reading is one skill that’s hard to get along without. Fortunately, the text-to-audio feature of the Kindle eReader opens the world of reading to people like me. And Text Aloud provides the opportunity to read articles, emails, and my own writing like never before.
Who knows, you may discover skills you never knew you had. Or skills you didn’t know your child had.
Misunderstandings about strengths and limitations can destroy a person’s confidence, and build bars that imprison us who struggle to thrive within the established system of learning. Once we understand that our limitations are normal, and that we have other gifts to explore, we can find our niche. Confidence is found when we focus on discovering our gifts instead of dwelling on abilities we lack.
I hope my experience has been an encouragement to you. Share this article on Twitter, or Facebook. The links below make it easy to share.